Italian espresso drinking

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It’s hard to find Starbucks in Italy. It’s even harder to find a cup of coffee, let along a dark brewed beverage that comes in a cup larger than a tazzino. If you ask for “coffee” Italians either chuckle or feel confused. In Italy, there’s no word for coffee. Instead, it’s caffe and caffe really means espresso.

Italians drink three kinds of caffe all day long: lungo (long, like a double shot), ristretto (short, no more than a tablespoon), and macchiato (“stained” with a dollop of milk foam on top). What makes a cup of caffe good or bad is the frothy foam or crema on the shot. The espresso machine and the barista together perfect this art.

You don’t always have to get just a little tazzino of espresso. Cappuccino is drunk until eleven o’clock in the morning and comes in a regular size tea cup. But breakfast isn’t large. Usually, Italians take along a small croissant (cornetto) only. A little treat seen in the mornings is also ‘caffe corretto’ or espresso with a tablespoon of “correction”, that can be any liqueur, but usually is the licorice tasting sambuca.

There’s an art that comes along with drinking caffe in Italy. First, stir sugar into the tazzino. Then down the shot in three or four sips. The barista usually provides a cup of water on the side. You can choose either flat water (lisca/naturale) or carbonated water (frizzante). Sip the water both before and after drinking your espresso in order to clean the palette. If you drink espresso at a Caffe, then usually you’ll have it as a brief sip-and-go along the counter rather than sitting down. It’s fast. It’s sweet.

Baristas often like to offer more than just espresso, although the tazzino is certainly the simplest and most popular of all dark brew beverages. The best twists similar to Starbucks innovations tend to be found at the cafe-bars of shopping malls, although a good specialty caffe can be found anywhere. Baristas announce their twists on billboards outside their establishment and name their drinks things like “Tiramisu” and “The Grandpa”. Watch out, though. Baristas generally don’t reveal their secrets and these delights are considered proprietary.

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